Berger and Grootenboer

The biggest difference between Harry Berger and Hanneke Grootenboer was the lenses through which they examined their respective paintings. Berger primarily uses history as the backdrop of his critique and observation, while Grootenboer says, “I do not intend to merely make a historical argument about early modern portraits. Instead, I want to make a theoretical argument as to how theatricality as an analytical tool can help us unpack subjectivity as performance in portrait paintings” (Grootenboer 323). Berger prefaces his arguments with a historical account of the time period and explains the role of the militia in the war between the Dutch and the Spanish. Grootenboer, on the other hand, dives into an account of the conceptualization of theater in the West. It is important to note, however, that Berger gives detailed explanations of the theatrical nature of many of the figures in the Night Watch. He points to extreme dramatization in many of the poses as well as how many of the figures flaunt their most attractive physical attributes.

Grootenboer focuses on the exploration of, “two meanings of the word exposition: as the positioning of the subject’s exteriority in front of an audience; and, in an extension reversal of the idea, as its dislocation, its ex-position” (Grootenboer 323). I enjoyed reading her unique perspective because Grootenboer explains that what is not shown or depicted is just as meaningful as what is shown. She discusses faint floors and dull backgrounds symbolizing isolation and loneliness and goes on to explain the significance of an artist painting an expressionless face in a later portrait. Grootenboer offers interesting insights on the meaning of small theatrical attributes, without making grandiose historical claims. Berger places much of his focus on the historical significance and symbolism of small features like a man holding a musket by resting, as opposed to gripping, the stock which was not the proper way to use a musket. Some argue Rembrandt was merely ignorant about guns, but Berger sites Carroll who contends that Rembrandt was, “deliberately exposing a contradiction between an ideal of military conduct and its flawed execution” (Berger 190).

Berger begins his essay with a remarkably casual tone, that I honestly found a bit irritating, but transitions to a more professional tone after the first few pages. Berger also assumes a large degree of ignorance on the part of his reader (which is a good thing) and spends a great deal of time discussing and explaining the history that supports his respective arguments. Grootenboer writes more traditionally throughout her essay and does not excessively quote other writers or devote a great deal of time to discussing history like Berger. Her tone is always professional and she has a strong introductory hook that sets the stage for the remainder of the writing.

The biggest difference I noticed between Westermann and Berger and Grootenboer was her more traditional, almost textbook, style of writing. She is more direct and less flamboyant, while Grootenboer, and particularly Berger, use flare and pomp in their writing. Westermann, like Berger, writes extensively about the historical significance of specific objects within paintings. Westermann, at least in the introduction, limits her speculation and does not delve into minute details like the symbolism of a hand on a musket (which I felt was grasping at straws). Focusing on the meaning of animals and outfits is much simpler and logical. I genuinely enjoy reading Westermann and Grootenboer, but Berger’s style was a bit over the top for my liking.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Berger and Grootenboer

  1. Hi Aiden,

    I found the difference in content really interesting in these pieces especially because the arguments had some similar points throughout. While Berger focused heavily on the historical context of the piece, Grootenboer looks at small details and tries to explain their significance. I enjoyed the casual tone that Berger used, actually, and found the textbook-like tone of Grootenboer a little irritating. I found that the use of differing tones in both of these pieces only strengthened their arguments.

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  2. I found i that the difference picked up fine to true and fascinating. Berger is much more concerned on the nitro coal context that surrounds Rembrandt’s work. Whereas, Grootenbuer is interested in the details in the painting that are not as obvious and do not immediately jump out at you. I think he could expand on it more dig deeper to explain what those minor details are that Grootenbuer chooses to look for. I also would like him to dig deeper as to why never tone is so casual? Does he want to appear to more audiences than just the Scholarly audience perhaps? Overall great response. It was truly interesting to read and analyze.

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    1. sorry I just realized I had a couple typos in my previous post here it is corrected.
      I found that the difference that you picked up on to be true and fascinating. Berger is much more concerned on the historical context that surrounds Rembrandt’s work. Whereas, Grootenbuer is interested in the details in the painting that are not as obvious and do not immediately jump out at you. I think you could expand on it more dig deeper to explain what those minor details are that Grootenbuer chooses to look for. I also would like him to dig deeper as to why Berger’s tone is so casual? Does he want to appeal to more audiences than just the scholarly audience perhaps? Overall great response. It was truly interesting to read and analyze.

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  3. I love that you’re pushing more deeply into these articles to understand the specific differences in their approaches and interpretive tactics: Berger to understand one painting in its original historical context, and Grootenboer to understand how we should look at portrait painting in general (or at least in this period and place). You point out that both rely on analysis of specific kinds of detail (the way a hand holds a musket, the way a background is left intentionally blank or blurred), but you don’t have the same confidence in the way each uses those particular pieces of evidence. It would be interesting, I think, to explore why you think Berger goes too far but Grootenboer doesn’t, in these particular cases. Is it in the level of evidence they bring to bear on those claims? Is it perhaps partly the tone, which in the case of Berger struck you the wrong way in places? Can we separate the writing style from the argumentative claims and evidence in a piece of scholarly writing? (Maybe, but maybe not! and that might be interesting to think about). Getting back into their approaches, what do you think Grootenboer means by the second part of her definition: “in an extension reversal of the idea, as its dislocation, its ex-position”? And–this just occurred to me–would this concept (in its dual meanings) be useful to analyzing Night Watch?

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    1. Also: did you notice that Westermann accepts at face value the accuracy of Rembrandt’s depiction of musket-handling, even though her own evidence would support Berger’s claim of R’s inaccuracy? What Berger makes of that inaccuracy is another matter, but what might we learn from questioning such details?

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  4. Hi Adian! I really enjoyed your post – I think you are very concise and articulate yourself very well! One thing that you mentioned about Berger stuck out to me. You stated, “Some argue Rembrandt was merely ignorant about guns, but Berger sites Carroll who contends that Rembrandt was, “deliberately exposing a contradiction between an ideal of military conduct and its flawed execution” (Berger 190)”. I’m interested in this potential counterargument — that perhaps Rembrandt was just ignorant about guns. Is it ok to make hard claims about an authors intentions? I think one of the reasons I liked Grootenboer’s piece was because, like you said, she offers “interesting insights on the meaning of small theatrical attributes, without making grandiose historical claims”. Nevertheless, I did enjoy Berger’s piece because it made me question the historical context of the artwork — whether or not his claims were true, about how Rembrandt intended to portray manly militia men, I’m not sure.

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  5. Hi Aidan! I really liked your point about how Grootenboer brings up what isn’t shown as well as what is shown; I think it fits really well in with the whole drama aspect of what she is saying about theatricality. The struggle between showing and telling is one we often hear about with literature, and it’s easy to forget its importance with a visual medium like painting, but it’s really important to look at this aspect of the artists’ visions as well.

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